PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — Kamau Sadiki traveled from the nation’s capital to Michigan to join a dive team charged with officially documenting for the first time the wreckage of a plane that was piloted by a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
For the civil engineer and underwater diving enthusiast from Silver Spring, Maryland, the trip represented much more than 400 miles.
Helping record a piece of history about America’s first black military pilots was “a spiritual journey,” he said.
Sadiki was part of a seven-person team that spent a week under the waters of Lake Huron detailing what remains of the P-39 that crashed during a training exercise seven decades ago, killing the airman.
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The team included Wayne Lusardi, the state of Michigan’s maritime archaeologist and the dive’s principal investigator; Stephanie Gandulla, an archaeologist with Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan; and Sadiki and four other members of Diving with a Purpose, a nonprofit that works to conserve and protect maritime history with an emphasis on African-American contributions.
For all seven members of the team, the August expedition was a labor of love.
“I literally underwater got tears in my eyes,” said Jay Haigler, a member from Washington, D.C., describing his reaction to seeing the remnants of the plane resting on the lake bottom.
The aircraft was piloted by 2nd Lt. Frank Moody, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles whose body washed ashore in Port Huron a few months after the April 11, 1944, crash.
The wreckage, which includes the engine, tail, wings, a radio and other parts, was discovered a year ago by a father-and-son dive team, but hadn’t been archaeologically documented until last week’s outing.
David Losinski, a helicopter pilot with the Oakland County sheriff’s office, and his son, Drew, were assisting the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on an unrelated matter when they stumbled upon the wreckage of Moody’s plane. The Losinskis contacted the state and have worked to help protect the site, assisting Lusardi and the team with their work.
“It’s a part of history,” said David Losinski, who hopes to erect “some type of monument for the airman who lost his life.”
DWP member Erik Denson came up with his own way of remembering Moody, organizing an informal memorial service on the boat on one of the dive days.
Denson is a longtime admirer of the Tuskegee Airmen, going as far as to collect members’ autographs at a convention.
“They were heroes — true American heroes,” said Denson, a NASA engineer from Oviedo, Florida, whose 15 to 20 airmen signatures are among his “most cherished possessions.”
Denson brought aboard a wreath, passing it around to other divers, who said a few words in memory of a man none of them ever met.
“We come to this solemn place to say, ‘Thank you,’ for your service, your honor, your courage, your determination. … May your spirit and soul rest in eternal peace,” said Sadiki, who has traveled the globe in search of remnants of African slave ships and other vessels.
Another diver, Dr. Melody Garrett, an anesthesiologist and Air Force veteran from Fort Washington, Maryland, said she hoped the work the team did would help “tell (Moody’s) story.”
Denson tossed the wreath overboard, and the seven watched in silence as it slowly drifted away, bobbing across the lake’s surface and out of sight.
Diving with a Purpose: http://www.divingwithapurpose.org
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: http://thunderbay.noaa.gov
Follow Mike Householder on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikehouseholder